Tasting from a tea cup

A recent lunch with a friend at South China Dim Sum was a thoroughly delicious experience. The tasty pan fried and poached wheat dumplings with their various fillings were just some of the morsels that went down a treat. As has become our norm, one pays, the other brings the wine; my choice this

Our Prüm riesling was still delicious in this tumbler
Our Prüm riesling was still delicious in this tumbler

time was Joh Jos Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese 2004. Delicious in itself, it went perfectly with all the dishes we devoured, even though it was served from glass tumblers. I have to admit I was slightly thrown, given the restaurant has a decent wine list, that it has no proper wine glasses.

Glass tumblers were again suggested when via Twitter, I quizzed my friend and UK wine writer, Anthony Rose as what his guests would drink from, as there were only two Zalto glasses which he had won in a raffle; one for him, the other for his wife, Charmaine.

Elegant Zalto glass, similar to the pair Anthony Rose won.
Elegant Zalto glass, similar to the pair Anthony Rose won.

The Twitter conversation continued by my telling Anthony that tumblers had no adverse effect on the Prüm, at which point Alex Hunt MW claimed that tumblers are perfect for Beaujolais Nouveau and so the conversation moved to other receptacles out of which wine might or might not taste so good.

This all reminded me of a memorable exercise Jancis Robinson suggested in her 1983 book, Masterglass, and headed ‘Why you need glasses’. ‘Try drinking wine out of the following drinking vessels and note how ‘wrong’ it tastes.’ China teacup, pottery mug, pewter tankard, silver goblet, plastic beaker and paper cup. According to Robinson, the last of these is probably the best, ‘affecting the wine’s flavour least’.

Let’s have a go, I said to myself. I’ve done the exercise once before, with a group and probably shortly after the book was published, so I’ve long forgotten the results.

My motley line up of tasting vessels
My motley line up of tasting vessels

Assembling the various vessels plus a control glass (pictured) proved no problem; for wines, I chose Rupert and Rothschild Baroness Nadine Chardonnay 2011 and Boekenhoutskloof Cabernet Sauvignon 2009; both are consistent in style and I know them pretty well.

In the glass, the Baroness has generous oatmeal, nutty features with a freshening orange citrus thread. It’s ripe but there’s no compromising oiliness, the concentrated flavours are clean and long. Boekenhoutskloof cab is starting to move from primary to a more interesting secondary stage, the tannins to soften, both making it easier to appreciate the rich, ripe dark berry flavours and flesh.  Both wines were sufficiently expressive to show for better or worse in the motley selection of vessels.

Clumsiness in hand and mouth, competing flavours from some materials and difficulty in viewing colour were just some of the disadvantages encountered with every vessel other than the glass.

Getting any aromas from the chardonnay was difficult given the splayed rim or lack of inward tilt of the vessels. Taste was less detrimentally affected, though the pottery mug did infuse both wines with a suggestion of coffee, accentuating sweetness in the chardonnay and, strangely, bitterness in the cab. The plastic beaker had an unpleasant roughness and smell but beyond that, the actual drinking experience was more pleasant. Pewter killed everything in both wines. Shape rather than material dimmed aromas in the paper cup, though it proved the least offensive container for either wine. I also quite liked the chardonnay in the silver goblet, partly because of its cool feel but also its elegance (at least the pair were specifically made for wine). It was a different story with the cabernet, where the goblet gave full rein to some as yet unencountered grippy tannins.

As Robinson sums up ‘why you need glasses’ writing glass ‘is tasteless and doesn’t impose any temperature on the liquid inside .. [there’s] the anticipatory pleasure of looking at a wine’s colour.’ She concludes; ‘The best wine glasses therefore are tulip- or near-spherical-shaped and have a stem.’ Adding, ‘The best wine glasses are never the most expensive. Many off-licences sell glasses called Paris goblets for less than 50p each.’ Paris goblets?! Is any glass more vilified today!

If I’m not lucky enough to be offered wine from the Rose’s Zalto glasses, give me their tumblers any day over a Paris goblet!


2 thoughts on “Tasting from a tea cup

  1. South China Dim Sum surely know their stuff! It could be an interesting exercise to repeat this tasting with a range of glasses: various models from Spiegelau, Riedl, and some Zalto thrown in for fun…

  2. The subject of tumblers at Chinese restaurant tables was brought up at Debra Meiburg’s SPIT conference in Hong Kong last week. Because diners are sharing their communal dishes by poking their chopsticks towards a lazy Susan at the centre of the table, stemware presents an obvious challenge! Could be an expensive meal, especially when using Zalto…

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